I get countless inquiries from snowbirds expressing astonishment that after spending six months in Mexico, Arizona, Jamaica or wherever, they can’t visit relatives in another province without risking loss of their medicare. Can’t even travel in Canada? What the hell’s going on? Well, technically, for residents of most provinces—that’s true. Read on.
Too many people, especially snowbirds, make the mistake of assuming that travel within Canada doesn’t count against their out-of-province quota; that they can only lose their medicare entitlements by overstaying their vacations while in a foreign country. Let’s make this perfectly clear: in order to remain eligible for your provincial health insurance, you must reside and be physically present in your province for a specified time. These are provincial rules, not federal rules.
In B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia you are required to be physically present in your province for at least 183 days (six months) during each calendar year. In Alberta and New Brunswick you must be present in the province for 183 days during a 12-month period (not the same as a calendar year). In Ontario you must be present in the province for a total of five months in the previous 12. In Newfoundland and Labrador you must be present for at least four months in the previous 12. These days can be in the aggregate (several short trips), or one long one.
If you don’t meet that in-province requirement, it is possible you might be disqualified from eligibility for your provincial health insurance. So, if you are from B.C and go to Mexico for six months and then decide you want to visit your family in another province for a month, you are in contravention of your own provincial rules. Sound crazy. Maybe. But technically, it’s true.
Some provinces, especially Quebec, and to an extent Saskatchewan and Manitoba are more lenient than others. Quebec allows you take short trips of up to 21 days beyond your six month quota anywhere you choose, in another province or country. Saskatchewan says it will allow its snowbirds to take additional short trips during the summer, and Manitoba allows its residents to take additional interprovincial trips up to a total of 30 days without penalty.
Now, you can say, who will know if you take a trip to another province? Good question. Canada has no border guards stationed at provincial boundaries and you don’t need to get your passport stamped if you travel from Nova Scotia to Manitoba. And that’s perfectly true.
But occasionally, people with nomadic spirits do get caught out—perhaps by a nosy neighbor, or a nasty relative, or by some other artifacts, like hospital bills sent to their home health ministry by providers in other provinces or countries. Once they are caught, they have to re-apply for eligibility and that takes at least three months of well documented residence in the province and during that time.
I suggest you don’t get panicked, and don’t become obsessive. A few days here or there probably will make no difference. But if you want to make sure you don’t break the rules, you have to know them first. And then, use common sense and good judgment. Don’t get greedy.
We’re going to be issuing clear guidelines and updated rules for each province over the summer on our site. Make sure you tune in frequently. Best idea is to sign on for our free email newsletter which will alert you to these updates.